The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, Richard Marlow - conductor
## 1-10 Thomas Weelkes
## 11-20 Thomas Tomkins
========= from the cover ==========
It was Thomas Cranmer who, in the first Prayer Book of King Edward VI (1549), set about ordering a reformed worship for the young Church of England. His telescoping of the traditional monastic offices into Morning and Evening Prayer has proved itself, over a period of nearly four centuries, peculiarly adapted to English temperament and religious feeling. There was no provision in the Prayer Book for the musical setting of particular texts, or propers, for special days in the church calendar, but by the time of Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623) and Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656) it was common practice to follow the Collects with a setting of some suitable biblical or devotional text. The full anthems recorded here are an important part of the rich musical tradition which quickly grew up in the Church of England.
Thomas Weelkes was almost certainly the son of John Weeke, rector of Elstead. Little is known of his early life, but the preface to his first volume of madrigals, published in 1597, indicates that he composed them as a very young man when the Italian madrigal first became popular in England. Late in 1598 he was appointed organist of Winchester College where he composed two further madrigal volumes containing his finest compositions in this genre. In 1601 or 1602 Weelkes moved to Chichester as organist, informator choristarum and Sherbome lay-clerk, the latter a very lucrative position. Here he composed the bulk of his sacred music which is stylistically quite distinct from the madrigals.
A catalogue of misdemeanours associated with the illness which probably contributed to his death began to blight the early promise of Weelkes' career. In 1609 he was absent without authorization throughout the visitation of the bishop; in 1611 his performance as choirmaster was unsatisfactory; in 1613 he was charged with public drunkenness; in 1616 his alcoholism had become a public scandal, and he was negligent in the performance of his duties; finally, in 1617, the bishop dismissed Weelkes from all but the Sherborne lay-clerkship. The disgrace of his sacking did not improve matters; by 1619 he would "dyvers tymes & very often come so disguised [drunk] eyther from the Taverne or Ale house into the quire as is muche to be lamented, for in these humoures he will bothe curse & sweare most dreadfully, & so profane the service of God". Although by 1622 he was once again serving as organist at Chichester, Weelkes spent much of his time in London. He died there in 1623, at the house of his friend, Henry Drinkwater - a final, sad irony.
The word-painting and expressive chromaticism of the madrigals gives way in Weelkes' church music to a more sonorous style contrasting homophonic sections with closely worked imitative passages. As often as not, these musical passages mirror the verbal phrases of the text in a way which betrays Weelkes madrigalian background, but the music drives forward in each section to carry the listener over the frequent cadences. Weelkes deployed his musical building bricks in a consciously architectural way and there are a number of examples of ritornello-type structural forms in Weelkes' full anthems.
The six-part Hosanna to the Son of David is conceived in short, urgent phrases alternating the rich sonority of the "hosannas" with almost breathless passages of counterpoint. The acclamations are repeated seven times in three forceful blocks of solid tonic and dominant chords. The effect is one of grandeur, as befits a piece which was probably composed as a welcome song for King James I. In similarly joyful vein, Gloria in excelsis Deo is structured in a clear ABA ternary form. An exuberant setting of the Latin text (which translates, "Glory be to God on high") frames more restrained music for the English 'verse' text. There is a delicious madrigalian harmonic shift in the middle section at the words "crave thy God to tune thy heart", but Weelkes quickly returns to sacred propriety.
More relaxed counterpoint characterizes the three five-part anthems recorded here. O happy he whom thou protect'st is one of only two pieces of Weelkes' church music published in his lifetime. O how amiable are thy dwellings consists largely of music shared with Weelkes' five-part service, whilst All people clap your hands, a setting of words adapted from Psalm 47, uses musical points identical to some in Weelkes' verse anthem Give ear, O Lord.
The six-part O Jonathan, woe is me is a curiously inconclusive piece which rather loses its way at the crucial words "passing the love of women". It nonetheless shares the powerful emotional tone of Weelkes' other sacred madrigal When David heard that Absalom was slain. The latter, a piece which portrays grief in a particularly human way, with madrigalian sighs, stabbing dissonances, and confused tonality, shows the depth of Weelkes' emotional perception and his genius in being able to convey these feelings in music. The six-part setting is almost terse, with brief phrases piling one on top of another to great cumulative effect. When David heard ends in the major, but it is an uneasy conclusion with little feeling of resolution. Both of these non-liturgical pieces may have been prompted by the death of Prince Henry in 1612.
O Lord, arise into thy resting place is one of Weelkes' finest anthems. The seven-part counterpoint is thoroughly worked out in seamless polyphony, moving from the steady pulse of the opening to the quicker movement of "and thy saints sing with joyfulness". The piece culminates with a grand chain of dissonances in the "alleluias". Laboravi in gemitu meo may have been the "choral hymn of six parts" which gained Weelkes his Oxford BMus degree on 13 July 1602. Like O Lord, arise it is a fully contrapuntal piece with elaborate imitative points as befits an academic exercise. The excitement of the concluding passage is far from academic. The text translates: "I am weary of my moaning, every night I wash my bed and water my couch with my tears."
O Lord, grant the king a long life is a vivacious seven-part piece with brilliant imitative points alternating with homophonic passages in a manner typical of the composer. Although there is little by way of overall structural coherence, sheer energy carries the day.
If Weelkes led a dissolute existence, Thomas Tomkins' life was the epitome of respectability. His father, also Thomas, was a vicar-choral at St David's Cathedral and by 1594 the family had moved to Gloucester where Thomas senior had been made a minor canon. At some time before his first recorded appointment as instructor choristarum at Worcester Cathedral in 1596, the young Thomas was probably a pupil of the doyen of English renaissance composers, William Byrd (1543-1623), for in a dedication to one of his madrigals Thomas referred to "my ancient, & much reverenced Master, William Byrd". By 1620 Tomkins was a Gentleman in Ordinary at the Chapel Royal, where he succeeded Edmund Hooper as sub-organist in 1621. On the death of the organist, Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625), Tomkins assumed the senior organist's post. Although he never resigned as organist of the Chapel Royal, by 1628 Tomkins was spending less and less time in London, preferring to remain active in Worcester. When the city surrendered to the Roundheads in 1646, choral services in the cathedral were discontinued and the organ was dismantled. Despite these upheavals, Tomkins remained at home in the precincts of Worcester Cathedral until 1654 when he went to live with his son, Nathaniel, at Martin Hussingtree. He died two years later.
It is to Nathaniel that we owe the survival of nearly half of his father's church music for which there is no source other than his collection Musica Deo Sacra, published in 1668. In many respects, Tomkins was Byrd's natural successor. Like his "much reverenced Master", he was a contrapuntalist of great facility, who distinguished himself not only in church music, but also in madrigals, canzonets, and music for the keyboard and viol consort. He was not attracted by newer forms like the lute song or the most recent developments in Italy, and this gives a slightly anachronistic feel to some of his music. Yet Tomkins' polyphony was sometimes expressed in a harmonic language which foreshadows Henry Purcell (1659-1695). Unlike Weelkes, Tomkins did not differentiate his sacred and secular styles; he responded freely to the text, though he did so in an expansively polyphonic style.
Like many of his contemporaries, Tomkins was happiest when composing for five or more voices. The four-part Funeral Sentences, however, were composed for strictly liturgical use, and their uncharacteristic reliance on homophony lends them an appropriately restrained dignity.
With the five-part pieces, Tomkins' remarkable technical and expressive accomplishment becomes more apparent. O praise the Lord, all ye heathen adopts a martial tone marked by simple chords and strong syncopations. Then David mourned has a strangely incomplete text, a problem which cannot be resolved by linking it more closely with When David heard, since the latter is in a different key, for a different arrangement of voices, and was first published separately in 1622 as a sacred madrigal. In its shifting tonality and frequent dissonance, Then David mourned achieves an immediate effect of forceful lamentation. Arise, O Lord, into thy resting place displays a brilliant command of textural architecture, contrasting homophonic sections like "thou, and the ark of thy strength," with rhythmically energetic counterpoint at "and thy saints sing with joyfulness". Domine tu eruisti animam meam, Tomkins' only Latin setting, is in a consciously traditional style with all the hallmarks of Byrd's smoothly worked counterpoint.
The last five-part anthem recorded here is a masterpiece. When David heard that Absalom was slain evoked in Weelkes an immediate, visceral response which found voice in music of great concision. Tomkins, on the other hand, weaves a protracted lamentation which gradually expands through broad polyphonic lines. The first part of the anthem is largely homophonic, telling the story and opening the way for the waves of grief in the second part. These surges of emotion finally exhaust themselves in acceptance, as the tonality shifts to the major at the end.
In Woe is me, that I am constrained the lines of the opening are long and sustained whilst dissonances within the six-part texture immediately set the tone of anguish. Be strong and of a good courage was written for the coronation of King James I in 1603. Polyphonic sections with varying vocal textures are punctuated by sonorous seven-part celebratory passages. The opening is particularly arresting, with the words "be strong" sung as an isolated exhortation in each voice. O sing unto the Lord a new song drives forward in seven part through a remarkable range of compositional techniques to brilliant "alleluias", full of delicious false relations.
The broad opening of O God, the proud are risen against me is typical of Tomkins; ] the thick eight-part texture builds up until it culminates in aptly descriptive homophony at "and the assembly of violent men". The second part of the anthem, heralded by the words "But thou, O Lord, art a pitiful God", includes some of the composer's loveliest word-painting at "slow to anger".
- David Barnard (1993)